30 Percent of Americans Have a College Degree

For the first time in the history of the US, 30 percent of the 61 million Americans over 25 years old have bachelor’s degrees. The new statistics, which are based on figures released on Thursday by the Census Bureau, reveal an increase in people acquiring degrees that began in the mid-1990s. As of March 2011, 30.4 percent of Americans now have at least a bachelor’s degree while 10.9 percent have a graduate degree; ten years earlier, 26.2 percent and 8.7 percent did, respectively. All told, the percentage of Americans with bachelor’s degrees has grown by 15.4 percent in the past decade.

While the number of African-Americans and Latinos has significantly increased, they still trail whites in attaining college degrees. Indeed, as the New York Times points out, the gap has widened. The percentage of African-Americans holding a bachelor’s degrees grew from 15.7 percent to 19.9 percent in the past decade; among Latinos, it went from 11.1 percent in 2001 to 14.1 percent in 2011. But 34 percent of non-Hispanic whites now have a college degree while 28.7 percent did in 2001. Among Asian Americans, 50.3 have bachelor’s degrees and 19.5 have graduate degrees.

The gap between the number of men and women getting college degrees is also steadily narrowing. In 2001, men had a 3.9 percentage-point lead in earning bachelor’s degrees and a 2.6 percentage-point lead in regard to graduate degrees. But in 2011, both gaps are now 0.7 percent.

Engineering and science represent 34.9 of the total bachelor’s degrees earned. The numbers of men in these fields has been lessening with women making steady gains:  Only 23 percent of degrees in science or engineering are held by women over the age of 65. But among those aged 40 to 64, 36 percent of degrees in science or engineering are held by women — and, among those 25 to 39, 45.9 percent have been granted to women, a sign that the push for women to enter the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is proving successful. It is a real gain for women as such fields offer careers with above-average incomes and workers with such backgrounds are in high demand.

Citing another Census Bureau report, “Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009,” the Chronicle of Higher Education points out that those who have a postsecondary degree have been less affected by the recession. While the rate of unemployment for Americans with a bachelor’s degree was 5.9 percent in February 2010 when unemployment peaked, 17.9 percent of those without a college degree were unemployed at that time, in contrast.

As Stanley G. Jones, president of Complete College America, says in in the Chronicle of Higher Education, ”While the progress is being made, we’re a long time away from declaring victory.” The increase in Americans with college degrees should be lauded. But it remains to be seen how escalating student debt on college loans and the effects of the recession may affect, and even deter, students from attaining college degrees. The Obama administration needs to stand by its word of raising the country’s college-graduation rate to be the highest in the world by 2020; policies must be put in place, and swiftly, to make and to keep college affordable for all Americans.

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89 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Tiffany B.
Tiffany B5 years ago

Interesting figures...

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Walter G.
Walter G5 years ago

So according to these figures 70% do not have a college degree? That is just about the same figure as those who cannot afford a degree, and a base for class warfare. On the other hand, I’d like to see reliable results of a study involving what portion of that 30 percent can demonstrate proficiency in their degree.

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Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons5 years ago

Woa. Wait a second. What about associate degrees? I see no mention in the article anywhere how many people had associate degrees. An associate degree is a college degree. We people who have associates degrees deserve to be counted and deserve to be treated with respect too. I am tired of filling out a form and there is a space that says education and the only box to check is 4yr college degree like people who graduated with anything less are somehow inferior. Ok I am done with my rant now.

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Linda McKellar
Past Member 5 years ago

This is an accomplishment in such a wealthy "democratic" nation? Russia is first with 54%. Canada is second with 50%. Geeze, the Commies and Socialists seem to be doing better. The US is 12th. Also revealing is that the north east has the most college graduates. The west has a high percentage of people with some college. The south has the lowest percentage by far. Curious if this is reflected in political leanings...ya' think? True common sense and education are not synonymous but if one has common sense it seems they would likely also be seekers of knowledge.

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Patty B.
Patty B5 years ago

We , in the USA , can do better .ALL education should be available for anyone who wants education taken to a higher level.But , it is not available due to the USA being a profit driven society .Wonder why the occupy students are ticked off ? $100,000.00 debt for four years college and either NO jobs OR jobs @ $7.00 hr .We need to become like Europe, where there are higher taxes BUT it covers , health , education and retirement plus infrastructure. The uSA is isolated from the rest of the world and believe the corporate hype.

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